By Cynthia Carrier
Our daughter Deborah is very obedient. When asked to do just about anything, she will do it cheerfully, almost without exception.
Yet when we close the door at bed time, reminding her of the rules ("You and your sister can talk quietly, but no playing around!") it’s not long before we hear quiet shuffling…then some louder thumps and bumps…and if let go long enough, uncontrolled shrieks of delight. Discipline as we will, she still tries to break the rules once she’s not under such watchful eyes.
It’s not lost on her, either. One night we overheard the following conversation between this little one and her older sister (and, mind you, she was only two years old at the time!):
"Don’t do that! Mom and Dad said no playing!"
"That’s OK…Mom and Dad aren’t here!"
For us, this was a perfect illustration of the big difference between obedience and faithfulness.
Obedience to God and His Word is an important foundation to a life of faith. Yet what God ultimately desires is that we would be more than obedient—that we would be faithful. Faithfulness is a heart condition, an obedience that springs from love and does not depend on external circumstances or things such as rewards and punishments. Faithfulness is another one of those character traits that is vital to instill in our children before they leave the nest. As we ourselves grow in faithfulness, it is important that we help develop a character of faithfulness in our children.
When our children are under our authority, we are likely to emphasize obedience, or the act of doing right as directed or instructed. Faithfulness, in contrast, is where we are trying to lead our children—through their obedience. As they learn to obey our commands, we are hopefully nurturing their hearts and spirits to desire God’s ways and to live out his core values and purposes. Prior to emancipation, if we are successful as parents, the acts of obedience will develop into the character of faithfulness.
As a practical means of instilling a faithful character in our children, we’ve found proactive training (in the sense of conditioning behaviors) to be an invaluable tool in our parenting tool kit. (We discuss training philosophies, the Biblical basis, and practical pointers in our book, The Values-Driven Family.) The conditioning to obedience that is developed through training easily transitions to a character of faithfulness once it can be explained and emphasized with more formal, Biblical teaching.
We also have seen that as our children age, we must allow them to make more and more choices for themselves (though this is often a "well-guided" processes). Likewise, we try to give them "little freedoms" and provide them opportunities to grow in faithfulness. When they make wise decisions and show greater levels of maturity, we make the point to connect their faithful obedience with the reward of doing something a little out of the range of normal.
As we provide our children with these age-appropriate ways of proving their faithfulness, they will see the value of being faithful and will be increasingly prepared for the greater freedoms that come as they approach the age of emancipation. They will also have learned faithfulness of character, which powerfully equips them for a lifetime of walking with the Lord and receiving the blessings that come from obeying His Word.
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